Friday, June 19, 2015

WHL celebrates 50 years

I'm fifty. Fifty years-old. I'm Sally O'Malley and I'm 50!
Remember that skit from Saturday Night Live? I laugh every time I see it. 
Just think, the Western Hockey League is celebrating its 50th season in 2015-2016. I am happy to be invited to the 72 game celebration as a broadcaster of this great league.
For the past 20 seasons, the Western Hockey League has been a big part of my life. It has brought me employment as a broadcaster for both the Swift Current Broncos and Kelowna Rockets. It is the WHL that has allowed me access to elite players between the ages of 16 and 20. I have been able to get to know them both personally and professionally. 
I have witnessed a young coach like Todd McLellan, who I spent five years with as coach/broadcaster with the Swift Current Broncos, accelerate to a solid career in the NHL. I have had the privilege of riding the bus with Marc Habscheid, Jeff Truitt, Ryan Huska and now Dan Lambert. Witnessing championships, watching players develop and mature and then move on has been rewarding. 
I have travelled across Canada thanks to the Western Hockey League. Without it I wouldn't have visited Quebec City (twice), London, Ontario or Rimouski, Quebec. I would have never stepped foot at the Toyota Center in Tri City or ventured up to Prince Albert to watch a game at the Art Hauser Centre. I can guarantee, I would have never made 32 separate trips up to Prince George to watch hockey!!
In the last 20 years, thanks to the Western Hockey League, I've witnessed some of the best hockey on the planet. I've been able to see a young Shea Weber, Sergei Varlamov, Pavel Brendl, Nic Petan and Brendan Gallagher dominate before going on to pro careers. Some attain their goals of making it to the NHL, others play semi pro and many go to university, but all have been a delight to watch.
I've seen new buildings emerge in Kent, Everett, Moose Jaw and Cranbrook BC. I will have the privilege this fall of seeing the Tigers play their first season in a new facility in Medicine Hat. I've witnessed franchises reborn in Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton and others re-locate to Chilliwack, Kent and Cranbrook. 
The WHL has changed immensely since I first stepped into the broadcast booth in 1995. The biggest improvements can quickly be broken down into three areas.
1) Coaching.
2) The influx of American born players which has made the product better.
3) A decrease in fighting/intimidation and an emphasis on skill development/creativity.
In my opinion, the WHL has never looked more pro-like than it is today. 
It has been an honour to be associated with the Western Hockey League. 
For those that make it tick, the owners, the shareholders of small market teams and the parents that allow their sons to flourish by leaving home to play in this great league, I tip my cap for your contribution in making the Western Hockey League the greatest junior hockey league on the planet.
Raise a glass in 2015-2016 to 50 years and another prosperous 50 to come!

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